Empowerment for Girls: How Parents Can Combat Gender Stereotypes

Research, in addition to personal experiences of girls and boys, and men and women (especially the experiences of girls and women), show that gender stereotypes have been in the past and, unfortunately, even in 2017, are alive and flourishing.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of parents to attempt to raise strong girls who feel empowered to follow their dreams, despite any obstacles that society might impose. Below are six important things that parents must try to do empower girls and to stave off the gender stereotypes. 

Know that, as parents, you are your child’s first teacher.  

Parents are role models.  Your daughters and sons are watching and learning from everything you do and say.  If you say one thing (boys and girls are equal) but do another (treat them differently, or act in a gender-stereotypical way yourself), they will definitely notice the actions over any empty words.

Introduce diversity in toys, play and sports activites , and  in toys.

Expose your sons and daughters to a variety of toys. Avoid choosing only those that are gender-typed or gender specific.  Encourage your children to engage with different kinds of toys, playmates and activities. Be creative and branch out beyond gender-themed activities that don't need to be gender specific. Children pick up on such activities and learn stereotypes very quickly when that's the mainstay of what they experience.

Address stereotypes straight forward and head on.
Avoid broad generalizations ( such as "all girls …" or "that's a boy thing"). Address such generalization by asking your sons and daughter questions about kids' assumptions and gently showing them why they're not accurate and not fair. Encourage and help children to see beyond a one’s gender or how that gender is presented by highlighting other qualities, skills and actions. Getting kids to value diversity is paramount to overcoming gender stereotypes.

Teach your children  to be media-savvy.
Even kids as young as three years of age can understand that advertisements they see on television, online, and in magazines are trying to persuade you, as a parent to do something that is gender specific. Ads want you to divide  the world into pink and blue. Most media (from books to TV to video games) present a very skewed picture of gender (and other social categories like race, religion, etc.). Teaching kids to be media-savvy will help safeguard them against the constant, stereotypical social messages they will encounter on a daily basis.

Provide positive examples or alternatives of role models who challenge gender stereotypes and unjust practices. 

Expose them to the many books and stories about some remarkable nonconformists who changed the world. Many of them are women, such as Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Bader Ginsburg,  Malala, Marie Curie and many more “sheroes”. There are excellen books, even for really young children, on such heroines. There is a growing list of fiction that presents ordinary girls as strong, capable characters. ( Such as Shelby, the little girl in my book, Amazing Adventures in Shelby’s Shoes.  There are television shows, especially ones such as SciGirls on PBS, that buck stereotypes.
Don’t forget that boys and men are a crucial part of the story.
It is a given that mothers are primary role models for their daughters. However, fathers, brothers and other male role models are greatly influential and form early blueprints for girls' future relationships.
Also, boys can be held back by stereotypes, as well. Feminist, Gloria Steinem, famously said, "We've begun to raise daughters more like sons ... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters." So, every one of these strategies is applicable to sons, as well as daughters..


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